Our rove for the 2019 September VHF contest was in turn, rewarding…

James Duffey

Our rove for the 2019 September VHF contest was in turn, rewarding, frustrating, educational, and catastrophic. I roved with WB2FKO In this contest in part to learn WSJT and in part to have two operators, which is a big help in roving. I will deal with the catastrophic first; near the end of the contest, on our way back to Albuquerque we hit a horse with the rover just west of Whippoorwill, AZ. It was dark and the horse was black. We were not in open range, that is, the range in that area is fenced with gates and livestock is not supposed to be on the road, so it was unexpected. The horse is dead and the rover is likely totaled, although that is still up to the insurance company. It was (is) undrivable. Mike and I were examined by EMTs at the scene and other than a few scrapes and light bruises appear to be OK. Olivia’s brother Alex came up on Monday to pick us up and empty gear from the rover. We ended up back home about 1630 Monday.

This was to be a trip to learn how to use WSJT in the rover. Lots learned in that area. We spent the Thursday before the contest in my driveway doing a dry run. After a few issues we finally got everything working and made an FT8 QSO and an MSK144 QSO, so things appeared to be OK.

We started in DM64 and things went well, working a number of stations on SSB and CW. Signals seemed down from what I expected. We then switched to FT8 and picked up an Es opening and worked several stations. Signals were strong so we went to SSB and CW, but there was nothing. Calling CQ did not raise anyone. There were lots of looky-loos there, so we got in some good PR for ham radio. WW6V was among them and he stayed for a while to chat and watch us work. We got on the road and Mike worked several stations from DM65 while in motion.

The next stop was DM55 and we started having problems with the interface sending continuous dahs, no matter which mode we were in. It was intermittent, but the next day I discovered the paddle cord was frayed, so we solved that problem, too late, by carefully positioning the cord.

We then moved to DM44 in Holbrook, AZ, but couldn’t raise anyone on the way. We decided to have dinner before getting on the air. Denny’s seemed like a good choice, but it turned out to have a dysfunctional kitchen. We got on the air from the motel semi parking lot, which was pretty nice with clear horizons and low noise. The IsoPwr battery charger/isolator failed, so we had to hook up directly to the car battery and run the car. The battery booster also blew a fuse. I think there is something in the setup that draws more current than it should. When I disconnected the 222 gear it seemed to go away, so there may be a problem there. We worked some down into Phoenix, but signals were never strong.

After charging the battery overnight, We got up the next morning, with the purpose of working meteor scatter in the morning. For reasons that are still not clear to us, we didn’t work anyone in over an hour. PSK reporter indicates we were heard over a wide area, and we had lots of solid decodes. Nobody came back to us. I am sure it wasn’t a multipath problem. After a morning of this, we got back on the road to DM45 and set up in a nice spot with clear horizons. We got on the air and worked a few SSB/CW QSOs. With not much in the way of expectations, we switched to MSK144. Here, unlike in DM44, we had success immediately and put a half dozen stations in the log in half an hour, including some good grids. We then conducted the infamous “multipath” experiments with W9RM using a variety of WSJT modes and beam headings. 45 minutes later we decided to bag the WSJT modes and worked on CW. Too many scientists/engineers involved and not enough sense of contest urgency.

We then got on the road to DM45. I decided to take a BIA road through and above Keams canyon to avoid an extra hour on paved roads and that turned out to be a mistake. Never take an unpaved BIA Road! It had started to rain, which made the road muddy and slippery, but that wasn’t a problem until we had to descend down the other side of the canyon. It got steep and very slippery, similar to driving on ice. There were no guardrails and a very steep and high drop off, so we decided to stop until the road dried off. Despite not being able to point the antennas, which were pointed straight into the mountain, we got on the air, but I don’t think we worked anyone. We were still in DM44. After three hours it stopped raining and 45 minutes after that the road dried enough to travel and, although the sun had set, it was light enough for us to continue down the mountain. It was late by then so we decided to head back to Albuquerque.

About a half hour after that disaster struck and we hit the horse. This, from talking to people there, is a fairly common occurrence in this area. One of the EMTs said it was her third day on the job and this was the third time she had to deal with people in cars hitting livestock. No one seemed surprised that we had hit livestock and almost everyone had a story to tell of them or someone in their family hitting livestock.

With many (most?)people working WSJT modes, it seems like the VHF contests seem to have shifted from rate-oriented to activity-oriented events. Although many times rates could have been higher on SSB/CW, there was no activity to support them.

Not sure why, but it seemed after DM64 we never developed a rhythm. Some of this may have been due to having to shift from WSJT to the analog modes and some of it may have been that Mike and I weren’t familiar with each other’s operation styles. Anyway, I learned much about operating the digital modes that I can use going forward.

James Duffey KK6MC
Cedar Crest NM

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